Jamaica offers endless vacation options
By Joanne Elves, For Postmedia News
It's hard to go on a holiday and not want to jam it all in -- the sites, the food, the adventures. By the time you get home, you need a post-holiday holiday.
This time, plan a trip to Jamaica that doesn't have you going at warp speed every minute. Plan to let the laid-back rhythm of the island wash over you. Breathe in the salty warm air, stroll the white sand beaches, savour the smells, the sounds and the spas.
The first and slowest activity to do in Jamaica is to float down a lazy shady river. The Martha Brae River is a good place to enjoy a trouble-free ride on hand-crafted bamboo rafts manned by locals who know every bend in the sediment-rich waterway. Your captain sings reggae tunes while manoeuvring the craft with a skinny shaft of bamboo. If twigs hang low, he might pluck a fragrant leaf of guava, lime or allspice for you to inhale. You'll feel the stress melt away long before the end of the 90-minute journey.
If a sunset sail is in order, there are plenty of excursions available. Try Wild Thing Catamaran Tours: we enjoyed a jaunt over to Rick's Cafe in Negril. As the boat set anchor in the snug cove, we swam to the cliff to watch daredevils jump from overhanging tree tops into the azure waters. The sun makes a glorious departure on the western horizon on the way back to port but most passengers miss the view because they "be jammin'."
If actually watching the sun set is to your taste, go to Rick's Cafe and stake a claim on a rail-side table on the spacious deck. The beer is great, the food is regular pub grub, but the fun and frolic is fantastic.
To me nothing is slower than a game of golf, especially in a tropical paradise. Try the golden triangle of golf courses of the Rose Hall Golf Association. It comprises three of the island's best courses -- Half Moon, Cinnamon Hill and White Witch.
They are so close that some holes are only a putt apart, but each offers a unique experience.
The front nine at Cinnamon Hill are said to be easier than the tight back nine, dotted with strategically placed traps. The Half Moon course -- reportedly the easiest of the trio -- was originally designed by Trent Jones, Sr. with wide rolling fairways and large bunkers. It has been renovated and is rated as the best Caribbean golf resort by Caribbean World Magazine.
More of a challenge because of the rolling countryside is White Witch at the Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort, Rose Hall. The lore attached to the course is dramatic: Annie Palmer, the unstable matron of the sugar plantation credited with the deaths of many husbands and lovers, was nicknamed the White Witch by the slaves. It's said she still haunts the plantation, but don't despair. Two caddies, or "golf concierges," are assigned to each foursome to offer golf tips, help rake bunkers, clean balls and educate players about island facts and fiction. If you'd like to learn more about the lore of the White Witch, take a tour of the Rose Hall Plantation.
For the best history lesson, book a private tour at Greenwood Great House. Owner-curator Bob Betton takes small groups through his home, which was once the elegant plantation house of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's family. They were one of the largest landowners on the island, overseeing almost 34,000 hectares of sugarcane and 2,000 slaves. Thankfully when most plantation homes were set afire in the slave rebellion of the 1830s, the Barrett home was untouched. Many of the artifacts inside are from past owners, who included country star Johnny Cash. The visit is well worth enduring the rough road to the estate.
Time spent at a vacation spa can make up for weeks of stress at home. My favourite Jamaican spa is at Half Moon Resort, where monarchs, movie stars and you are treated royally. Fern Tree Spa is a 6,300-square-metre mind and body haven. Rebuilt in 2006, the indoor/outdoor facilities are lush with indigenous plants frequently used in herbal remedies. The treatments are both soothing and healing, ranging from pedicures to mud wraps. The spa attendant will be in no hurry to see you leave: you can lounge at the private pool and waterfalls until you feel the urge to move.
But if you find you want to kick up the adventure level as part of your visit to Jamaica, your choices are endless.
Dunn's River Falls flow over travertine rock to the Caribbean Sea, making it a natural water park. The park is inexpensive to visit and includes guided tours up the waterfalls.
You can take a chairlift to the top of Mystic Mountain near Dunn's River Falls, then take the Bobsled Jamaica ride, which plunges down a 1,000-metre winding track. Across the lawn is the Zip-Line adventure, another entertaining jaunt through the beauties of the rain forest.
Chukka Caribbean Adventures has everything for adrenalin junkies, from horseback riding to river tubing and dog sledding (seriously!) They also offer zip line tours.
Dolphin Cove at Treasure Reef is both educational and thrilling. Depending on your mood, you can pet dolphins, swim with them or immerse yourself in an all-out adventure that includes hanging on to dolphin fins for a tour of the enclosure or being sent flying through the air by the powerful mammals.
The ultimate thrill is the shark experience at Dolphin Cove. They say the sharks can't hurt you. But sit on the submerged stone bench and let a six-foot nurse shark sit in your lap, then drop a morsel of meat in front of its nose. The power of the attack ripples through your body, and having experienced it you'll happily go back to vacation Plan A: Speed dial the butler and line up a massage back at the spa.
BEST OF JAMAICA
Best sightseeing: Martha Brae River Rafting, Rose Hall Plantation Mansion, Greenwood Great House, Mystic Mountain
Best play for families: Dolphin Cove at Treasure Reef; Canopy tours, horse rides or dogsled tour with Chukka Tours; Dunn's River Falls
Best play for singles: Margaritaville in Montego Bay, Ricks Cafe, any bar that spills loud reggae into the street
Best regional eats: Scotchies locations (watch out for the lip-ripping jerk sauce), Pier One on the waterfront on Hip Street, Juicy Patties
Best bet for indulgences: Fern Tree Spa at Half Moon Resort
Total adult indulgence: Hedonism Resorts for fun at the nude beach or prude beach
From Montreal Gazette.